Good, bad, ugly, sad—MMA fans got a taste of everything in 2011. It was a big year for the fastest growing sport in the world, and FIGHT! was along for the entire ride. Sit back in your favorite chair, pour yourself a glass of your best sipping whiskey, and take a stroll down memory lane as we bring you the biggest stories from the past year. One thing is for sure—2012 has a lot to live up to.
Las Vegas was the right place to ring in 2011. Stellar performances from Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard for the UFC Lightweight Title brought fans at UFC 125 to their feet. Although scored a draw, the fight paved the way for Edgar vs. Maynard III later in the year.
In the aftermath of Chael Sonnen’s guilty plea to one charge of money laundering (he received a $10,000 fine and agreed to forfeit his real estate license), the UFC temporarily suspended the middleweight contender.
Dana White announced that previously unaired preliminary card fights would air for free on the UFC’s official Facebook page.
Nick Diaz began his 2011 reign of terror by submitting Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos by armbar at Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Cyborg.
Anderson Silva retained the UFC Middleweight Title by thwarting Vitor Belfort at UFC 126. Silva gave Steven Seagal credit for helping him fine tune the highlight-reel front kick that knocked Belfort into orbit.
In the quarterfinals of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Tournament, Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva handed Fedor Emelianenko his second consecutive loss when ringside doctors deemed him unable to continue after Silva pounded him.
UFC returned to Australia for the second time, selling out in minutes. BJ Penn and Jon Fitch headlined the event and fought to a majority-draw decision.
UFC President Dana White announced that Zuffa, LLC, had purchased Strikeforce, which would continue to operate as an independent promotion, with Scott Coker leading day-today operations. The acquisition solidifies the UFC’s imperialistic position.
Who says good things don’t happen in Jersey? Jon Jones TKO’ed Mauricio “Shogun” Rua at UFC 128 to become the youngest UFC Light Heavyweight Champion at the tender age of 23.
Jung Chan-Sung pulled off a textbook twister submission over Leonard Garcia at UFC Fight Night: Nogueira vs. Davis. Eddie Bravo celebrated by eating chocolate chip cookies while the rest of the world watched it again and again online.
Following a hearing by the Nevada State Athletic Commission, Thiago Silva, who admittedly altered a urine sample before his UFC 125 win against Brandon Vera, was suspended for one year. His win over Vera was changed to a no contest, and he was ordered to forfeit $20,000 of his $55,000 win bonus.
In a back-and-forth affair, Nick Diaz eventually steamrolled Paul Daley with a TKO-victory to defend his Strikeforce Welterweight Title for a third time. He would later vacate the belt to return to the UFC.
O Canada! UFC 129: St-Pierre vs. Shields, held in Toronto, became the largest UFC event in North American history with a live attendance of more than 55,000. While Georges St-Pierre exacted a unanimous-decision win over Jake Shields, the bigger story was Lyoto Machida knocking Randy Couture into retirement with his Segal-coached, Karate Kid inspired, crane kick.
The May issue of ESPN The Magazine listed Brock Lesnar as the highest paid mixed martial artist based on salary and earnings for the most recent calendar year. That’s $5.3 million. Cha-ching!
Zuffa announced that its fighters would receive extended comprehensive health insurance coverage beyond its normal event coverage. The coverage includes
training-related injuries, non-training incidents, and dental.
UFC announced that Brock Lesnar suffered a repeat bout of diverticulitis, sidelining his bout against Junior dos Santos at UFC 131.
Travis Browne superman punched Stefan Struve in round one to earn KO of the Night at UFC 130.
The Ultimate Fighter 13 Finale saw Tony Ferguson (Team Lesnar) defeat Ramsey Nijem (Team dos Santos) via KO to become the welterweight winner of TUF 13.
Dana White announced that nontitle main event fights will now be five rounds. Everyone rejoiced, except for the heavyweights.
Junior dos Santos defeated Shane Carwin at UFC 131 by unanimous decision and moved one step closer to a UFC heavyweight title fight.
Pat Curran defeated Luis Palomino with a Peruvian necktie to advance to the Bellator Featherweight Tournament semifinals.
In the best come-from-behind moment of the year, a dazed and wobbled Cheick Kongo KO’ed Pat Barry with two well-placed right hands at UFC Live.
In one of the most action-packed cards of the year at UFC 132, Chris Leben KO’ed Wanderlei Silva, Carlos Condit TKO’ed Dong Hyun Kim, and Tito Ortiz submitted Ryan Bader. To top it off, Dominick Cruz avenged his only pro loss to Urijah Faber with a unanimous-decision win over “The California Kid.”
Miesha Tate defeated Marloes Coenen by arm triangle at Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Henderson to become the Strikeforce Women’s Bantamweight Champion, and Dan Henderson TKO’ed Fedor Emelianenko in round one, handing the Russian MMA legend his third consecutive loss.
After all the trash talking, Rashad Evans proved he could back it up at UFC 133 when he TKO’ed Tito Ortiz in round two. However, the real scuttlebutt of the event was Dennis Hallman’s Speedo-style trunks that were promptly banned from future shows.
Matt Hamill retired after five years and a 9-4 record. After two consecutive losses, Hamill stated he no longer had the hunger or desire to fight, but that he had “fallen in love with MMA,” and would continue to coach at his gym, Mohawk Valley MMA.
Renowned MMA coach Shawn Tompkins died unexpectedly of a heart attack in his sleep at 37 years old.
Chris “Lights Out” Lytle retired after submitting Dan Hardy by guillotine choke at UFC on Versus 5. After eight years inside the Octagon, Lytle entered retirement on his own terms and with more win bonuses than any other fighter in UFC history.
The UFC went mainstream with Fox Broadcasting Company, announcing a seven-year broadcast deal through the Fox Sports subsidiary. The deal includes four events on the main FOX network, 32 live Friday night fights per year on their cable network FX, 24events following The Ultimate Fighter reality show, and six Fight Night events.
Pat Curran became the Bellator Featherweight Tournament winner and added more footage to his ever-growing highlight reel by KO’ing Marlon Sandro with a head kick.
UFC 134 returned to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the first time since 1998. Headliner Anderson Silva defeated Yushin Okami via TKO to retain the UFC Middleweight Championship. The fight marked Silva’s 14th consecutive win in the UFC—the longest win streak in UFC history.
Luke Rockhold defeated Ronaldo Souza via unanimous decision and became the Strikeforce Middleweight Champion. In heavyweight tourney action, Daniel Cormier KO’ed Antonio Silva and Josh Barnett submitted Sergei Kharitonov to advance to the finals.
The Ultimate Fighter Season 14: Team Bisping vs. Team Miller aired, featuring featherweight and bantamweight fighters.
At UFC 135 in Denver, Colorado, Nate Diaz submitted Takanori Gomi, Josh Koscheck KO’ed welterweight legend Matt Hughes, and Jon Jones submitted Rampage Jackson to retain the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship.
UFC 136 did not disappoint. Frankie Edgar showed more incredible resolve with a come-from-behind KO of Gray Maynard in round four.
Viacom, which owns Spike TV, bought majority shares in Bellator.
After a media circus that involved Nick Diaz being demoted from a title shot with Georges St-Pierre due to his failure to appear at media events, Diaz was bumped back to the main event of UFC 137 against BJ Penn when St-Pierre pulled out of his fight against Carlos Condit due to injury. In the end, Stockton’s own left legendary UFC multi-title winner Penn battered, bruised, and talking retirement.
UFC on Fox 1 became the most-watched live MMA event in the United States, with an average of 5.7 million viewers and a ratings peak of 8.8 million viewers during the main event. Junior dos Santos defeated Cain Velasquez via KO at 1:04 of round one to become the new UFC Heavyweight Champion. In the untelevised undercard, Clay Guida and Ben Henderson fought a thrilling five-rounder that saw Bendo take the unanimous-decision win.
Dan Henderson returned to the UFC against Mauricio Rua at UFC 139. The five-round war pushed both Henderson and Shogun to their limits, with Hendo ultimately earning a unanimous-decision victory.
In true gladiator fashion, Michael Chandler and Eddie Alvarez slugged it out over four rounds of unforgettable action before Chandler submitted Alvarez to become the new Bellator Lightweight Champion at Bellator 58. Hector Lombard TKO’ed Trevor Prangley for his fourth win of the year.
The Ultimate Fighter 14 Finale aired. In the bantamweight finals, John Dodson from Team Miller defeated T.J. Dillashaw via TKO. In the featherweight championship bout, Diego Brandao submitted Dennis Bermudez in a slick armbar. In the coaches’ fight, Michael Bisping defeated Jason “Mayhem” Miller via TKO in round three.
At UFC 140, Frank Mir became the first man to submit Antonia Rodrigo Nogueira. Mir’s vicious arm-snapping kimura almost made us forget there was a title fight coming up. Jon Jones looked almost human in round one, as he had trouble finding his range against Lyoto Machida. However, Bones unleashed his fury in the next two rounds, eventually choking Machida unconscious with a standing guillotine.
In her third title defense as the Strikeforce Women’s Featherweight Champion, Cris “Cyborg” Santos knocked out Hiroko Yamanaka in 16 seconds at Strikeforce: Melendez vs. Masvidal (she was later stripped of her title following a positive test for steroids). In the main event, Gilbert Melendez battered Jorge Masvidal over five rounds to win a unanimous decision.
Duane “Bang” Ludwig was informed that his KO of Jonathan Goulet in 2006 will now stand as the fastest KO in UFC history at six seconds. Dana White proved the timing on his video blog and asked that the Nevada State Athletic Commission do the right thing after they refused to change the timing from the recorded 11 seconds.
Chael Sonnen ranked at number five in Yahoo! Sports’ Top 10 Sporting Villains of 2011. Who says trash talk will get you nowhere?
An unusual Friday night pay-per-view, UFC 141 netted some unforgettable fights, including Nate Diaz snapping Donald Cerrone’s win streak by out-striking “Cowboy,” and Johny Hendricks knocking out Jon Fitch in 12 seconds. In bigger news, Alistair Overeem dominated a tentative Brock Lesnar with powerful body shots, earning a TKO-victory in the first round. The defeat prompted Lesnar to retire after seven fights inside the Octagon.